Dark Nudges: Branding Magnifies the Decoy Effect in Alcohol Purchasing Decisions

Charlotte Rebecca Pennington*, Rebecca L Monk, Adam Qureshi, Rutuja Kulkarni, Wang Li, Jing Li, Derek Heim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective: Public health policies aim to reduce alcohol consumption and related harms by controlling the cost and availability of alcohol, yet industry actors seek to position branded beverages appeal-ingly vis-à-vis other products. To inform the development of regulatory strategies, it is important to understand how alcohol branding interacts with seductive pricing strategies to influence purchasing decisions. Toward this aim, the current study examines how the “decoy effect” may operate to modify purchasing decisions for branded alcoholic beverages. Method: Social drinkers (n = 98, 66.6% female; M AUDIT = 5.00, SD = 4.42) completed an online Decoy Assessment, choosing from a range of (non)branded, (non)alcoholic beverage offers based on price and quantity. These initial purchasing decisions were then re-assessed when a decoy product—offering a quantity in between the two original offers but at a significantly higher price—was introduced into the choice array. Results: The decoy modified initial purchasing decisions for alcoholic compared with nonalcoholic beverages, and this effect was exacerbated by alcohol branding. Increases in self-reported alcohol consumption were associated with a greater change from choices for branded alcoholic beverages. Conclusions: When faced with a choice conflict, individuals who consume alcohol may be nudged into selecting more expensive branded alcoholic beverages. These findings may inform the development of alcohol control policies relating to branding and relative pricing/product placement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-866
JournalJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs
Issue number6
Early online date24 Aug 2022
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022 by Alcohol Research Documentation, Inc. This is an accepted manuscript of an article published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The published version is available at: https://doi.org/10.15288/jsad.21-00398


  • alcohol consumption
  • decoy effect
  • branding
  • marketing
  • purchasing decisions
  • alcohol policy


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